Updated 4 months ago

Berlin is cosmopolitan, diverse, relaxed, and easy going – more than you would think for a capital city. Over the past few years, it’s become very popular among international students and expats for its great lifestyle, academic opportunities, and equally fantastic nightlife. Berlin shows its best side in the summer, as it is a green city with lots of parks, lakes, and beer gardens inviting you to hang out and relax.

Why study in Berlin?

Consistent quality education at a low cost or free

Germany has a tradition of offering quality degrees for free or at very affordable administration fees to anyone who meets the public university’s entrance qualifications. You’ll get the chance to study under the same conditions as the locals and immerse yourself in the German way of student life.
Did you know that two Berlin universities – Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, rank among the top 130 universities worldwide? Equally the Technische Universität Berlin makes it into the top 200 and welcomes an impressive 20% international students from its student body.
Also, living expenses in Berlin are cheaper than in most European cities. And even with the prices going up, they are nowhere near to what you’d pay in Paris.

Great employment prospects and starting salaries

In Germany, higher education is seen as a way to prevent unemployment. The unemployment rate of graduates with bachelor degrees is only 2.5%. In 2016 the average starting salary for graduates was 42,000 EUR. Even the more difficult fields such as humanities had entry salaries starting around 32,000 EUR. And if you are prepared to move for a job, you’ll encounter numerous job opportunities all over Germany.

Berlin is a student city

As a great student city, Berlin has much to offer to foreign students: it is multicultural and people are open-minded in general. Rent is cheap and there are numerous museums, theatres, libraries, and events to make studying worthwhile in Berlin. It is known for its great nightlife and its laid-back, bohemian, and non-conformist lifestyle. Most people cycle to get around town and there’s no typical commuter crowd, unlike in Paris, London, or New York City.

The academic environment

Berlin is home to more foreign students today than ever before. There are currently over 180,000 students registered in Berlin (2017), of which about 16% are international students. Most foreign students come from other European countries and take part in Erasmus exchange programs. However, the main countries of origin are China, Russia, and Austria.

Over the next ten years (2017-2026), Berlin is planning to invest 1.2 billion EUR (120 million annually) in refurbishing major new construction and renovation projects for its Berlin’s universities. The Freie Universität (FU), Humboldt (HU) and Technische Universität (TU), the Charité as well as Beuth Hochschule and Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft will mostly benefit.

The Teaching culture

Depending on your level of education and type of studies, you may be part of a group who follows the same schedule, or you may choose your courses individually. You’ll attend reading lectures (Vorlesungen), where the professor covers the theory at a rather quick pace, and you will have access to more hands-on seminars (Seminare) in smaller groups, where you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics to apply your newly acquired knowledge. Lectures tend to be non-compulsory and are often evaluated by an exam at the end of the semester, while seminars are mandatory and require submitting a paper (Hausarbeit) or a presentation (Referat) to pass the course. Some programs may include practices (Übung) that go along with the lectures and offer a practical revision of what you’ve learned in the corresponding lectures.

The education system is rather hierarchical and you’ll always address the teachers formally using “Sie” or “Herr/Frau”.

The teaching language


Some classes may be held in English, but for most programs, you’ll need to have an acceptable level of fluency in German in order to enroll at public universities. You should hold one of the following German language certifications:

  • DSH – The Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang is usually taken at the local university.
  • TestDaF – Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache can be taken in your country.
  • ZOP – Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung
  • KDS – Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom
  • GDS – Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom (most difficult one)

Berlin’s main universities

  • Humboldt Universität Berlin (HU) - Founded in 1810, the HU is a German university of excellence renowned for strong research opportunities in fields such as the history of science and quantitative economics. As one of Berlin’s oldest universities, it is associated with 40 Nobel Prize winners and considered as one of the best universities in Europe. As per QS University Ranking of the world’s top universities, it ranks 121 with strong subject rankings in Arts & Humanities and Philosophy.

There are 9 faculties and 189 degree courses for over 32,500 students, of which about 10% are international students. In terms of research, there are 2 clusters of excellence, 3 graduate schools, 10 research centres and 9 research training groups. You can find out more regarding admissions at the HU on their website.

Together with the Freie Universität it is affiliated with the Charité Berlin, a large medical teaching hospital and one of Germany’s most research-intensive medical institutions.

  • Freie Universität Berlin (FU) is one of eleven German universities of excellence and a leading university in research and teaching with an international presence. Founded during the Cold War in 1948, it belongs to one of Germany’s largest universities and is known for its research focus in humanities and social sciences as well as natural and life sciences, physics, mathematics and computer science. As per QS University Ranking, it is placed 123 in the world’s top universities. Among the alumni are many awarded scientists, politicians and philosophers, namely five Nobel Prize winners and 15 Leibnitz Prize winners. Did you know that John F. Kennedy was awarded honorary citizen by the FU, the same day he held his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech?

About 30,600 students attend over 180 bachelor’s and master’s programs across 15 departments and central institutes, of which 16% are international students. There are 50 doctoral programs with 5750 doctoral students with 29% of foreign origin. Admissions remain highly competitive due to the high number of applicants such as those for medicine and psychology. Don’t hesitate to find out more directly on the FU website.

  • Technische Universität (TU) or the technical university of Berlin has one of the highest proportions of international students with almost 20% in 2016. It is a member of TU9 as one of the largest and most notable German institutes of technology and the Top Industrial Managers of Europe network that allows student exchange between leading engineering schools.

According to the QS World University Rankings, TU Berlin was ranked 164th overall and 47th in the field of Engineering & Technology in 2016. Thus it is one of Germany's highest-ranked universities in statistics and operations research and in mathematics. The alumni and professor list includes ten Nobel Prize winners. Over 34,000 students were enrolled in 2016. If this catches your interest, check out the TU website.

  • Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK, University of the arts) is the largest art and design school in Europe and one of Berlin’s four research universities. With around 3500 students across 40 courses, it is one of the most diversified University of Arts worldwide, with four colleges specialising in fine arts, media, architecture, design, performing arts, and music. It has full university status, meaning that it can award doctorates and post-doc qualifications. Check out the Udk website.

In total there are five public universities in Berlin including these four, as well as the University of Potsdam in the south west of Berlin’s urban region. Berlin is also home to five recognized private universities: the ESCP Europe Wirtschaftshochschule Berlin, Hertie School of Governance, Steinbeis-Hochschule Berlin, ESMT European School of Management and Technology, and Touro College Berlin – as well as various private, professional and technical colleges.

Entry conditions

As an EU citizen you can freely come and study in Germany as long as you fulfil the basic entry conditions, i.e. you have a secondary school diploma (A-levels) and a recognized German language certificate. Most universities apply a NC (numerous clausus) based on the final grades of your A-levels and may require ability tests. For more information regarding admissions, check with the university of your choice.

If you are a citizen from outside the EU-EEA, you must apply for a student visa at the German embassy or consulate in your home country. There are three kinds of student visas: a temporary student visa valid up to three months, the student visa per se and a visa for language courses only.

Note that application closing dates differ between universities. Generally, applications must be filed before January 15th for the summer semester (beginning in April) or before July 15th for the winter semester (beginning in October). However, make sure to check well in advance to be able to respect the deadlines for submitting your paperwork.

Scholarships

The Erasmus exchange program is an easy option to study in Germany for up to one year. You can find more information directly through your university or through the German embassy or consulate in your area. You can also check with the DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service who grants many scholarships for international students at various degree levels.

Your host institution may also offer scholarships or grants. Do not hesitate to contact them for further information. Some fellowships offer non-government scholarships, for example, the Einstein International Postdoctoral Fellowship or the Global Challenges Fellowship Program.

Students from EU countries may be eligible for BAföG, which is a half-loan, half-grant from the state which is generally interest-free.

Living in Germany

The costs of living in Berlin are very affordable with accommodation costs from 300 to 700 EUR for a shared flat or small apartment. Student dormitories are even cheaper but may be difficult to get. Food is more affordable than in Paris or London.

Be aware that health insurance is compulsory and you will have to either get coverage from your home country or ask the university’s Studentenwerk for student offers.

During the semester, students may only work for 20 hours per week.

Nightlife, lakes,
parks and beer gardens

This is what makes Berlin worth moving toSternies beer and sunsets by the canal, sunbathing and swimming in the nearby lakes, late night bike rides to beer gardens, and open-air clubs that never close.
Berlin hosts a wide range of events attracting international attention and a very active cultural scene with plenty of concerts, theatres and cinemas – check out the weekly magazines or the magazines in German if you’re fluent. The most well known annual events are Berlin Fashion week and its film festivals, and international fairs like the International Green Week etc.

Local meals every student should taste once in their life


The local cuisine may strike you as somewhat simple. Apart from the ingredients traditionally used in Brandenburg, it is characterized by the cooking traditions of the immigrants from Silesia, Bohemia, East Prussia, Pomerania and Mecklenburg as well as the Huguenots from France.
Berlin is known for its fast food Curry Wurst or Boulette and Kartoffelsalat and of course Spreewälder Gurken; but Turkish food such as Döner Kebab has long made its way into German cuisine.

Student housing

Most students live in shared flats or university student housing, which you can find advertised online, on student notice boards or through the local Studentenwerk (National Association for Student Affairs) at your university. Student dormitories are much cheaper, from 250 EUR upwards, though chances are the official student housing are neither the most attractive flats nor your best chance of building a great social life, and you’re probably better off choosing your own flatshare known as a WG, or Wohngemeinschaft. Finding roommates will help you adjust and improve your German and make it so much easier to meet locals and make friends. Try these websites to get started: wg-gesucht.de, dreamflat.de, studenten-wg.de.

Apartments and shared flats in the trendy areas such as Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, Mitte, Kreuzberg, and Neukölln are the most popular among students. However, if you are looking for more space per square metre, you should look around Charlottenburg, Wilmersdorf, Wedding, Moabit, and Tiergarten. Berlin City West is also up and coming and may be worth considering.

General advice

German universities will be happy to advise you but not guide you completely. While enjoying the privilege of free education at a public university, be prepared to be organized to attend your lectures and study. You’ll be treated like a local and it’s unlikely anyone will remind you to catch up on missed classes. You only get out what you put in. This may be very different at private teaching institutions.

 Useful links:

DAAD - Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst - Study in Germany
Deutsches Studentenwerk
Auswärtiges Amt
Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung (formerly ZVS)
Goethe Institute
Scholarships Berlin

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